Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Awareness of the Influence a Variety of Food Has on Food Consumption

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Awareness of the Influence a Variety of Food Has on Food Consumption

Article excerpt

Research suggests that external factors, such as portion size, variety, or eating with others can influence food consumption (Herman, Koenig-Nobert, Peterson, & Polivy, 2005; McCroy, Fuss, & McCallum, 1999; Wansink & Junyong, 2005; see Remick, Polivy, & Pliner, 2009, for a review). Some researchers have even suggested that external factors may play a larger role in eating behavior than internal factors such as hunger, satiety, flavor, or macronutrient content (Levitsky, 2005; Wansink, 2004). One of the more interesting aspects about how external factors may influence eating behavior is that the influence may occur outside conscious awareness (Wansink, 2004). External factors refer to environmental and non-physiological factors. The current study examines whether people might be aware of an external factor's relationship with consumption.

External Factors

External factors may influence eating behavior (see Wansink, 2004, for a review). Some of the external factors that have been shown to influence eating behavior are salient foods, portion size and eating with others. Seeing or smelling a food can also lead to consumption (Rothman, Sheeran, & Wood, 2009; Wansink, 2004). As an example, workers ate over five more chocolate kisses per day when a container full of candy was on their desks rather when it was further away and less noticeable (Painter, Wansink, & Hieggelke, 2002). How much food is available to eat also influences consumption (Sobal & Wansink, 2007; Wansink, 1996). In one study, moviegoers eating from a large bucket of popcorn ate 33.6% more than those eating from a medium size bucket (Wansink & Junyong, 2005). Social context also influences food consumption. People tend to eat a similar amount as the people eating with them (Herman, et al., 2005; Wansink, 2004), often approximating the intake level of their eating partners.

One particularly interesting external factor is variety. People tend to eat more food when a larger variety of food is available (McCroy, et al., 1999; Rolls, Rolls, Rowe, & Sweeney 1981; Smiciklas-Wright, Kreb-Smith, & Krebs-Smith, 1986). This variety effect of food has been found to increase consumption in an array of different areas, in both genders and across a wide range of ages (for reviews see Raynor & Epstein, 2001; Wansink, 2004). The variety effect is particularly interesting, as its influence might be partly due to variety, just for the sake of variety. In one study, individuals were given an assortment of 300 M&M candies that contained either 7 or 10 different colors (Kahn & Wansink, 2004). The flavor of each color was identical, but those who were given the assortment of ten different colors ate 43% more than those given the seven colors over the course of an hour. People appear to be attracted to differences, thus implicating one of the influences variety has on food consumption.

Awareness and eating behavior

Eating behavior may be influenced by external factors, but to what extent are people aware of these influences? People often acknowledge that others may be unconsciously affected by external factors, but think these factors may not influence themselves (Wansink, Just, & Payne, 2009). According to Brian Wansink, " [we] might acknowledge that others could be tricked, but not us ... we are almost never aware that it is happening to us" (Wansink, 2006, p.1, emphasis added). Is it really the case that people are almost never aware of external factors influencing eating behavior?

Evidence clearly supports the idea that external contextual factors such as variety, affect food consumption. But the recent claim that people are generally unaware of how external factors affect consumption (Vartanian, et al., 2008; Wansink et al., 2009) might be overstated. In studies examining external factors, systematic measures of awareness are often lacking. In the majority of studies on eating behavior, awareness has not been explored systematically, and in some cases, it has been completely ignored (Brunstrom, 2004). …

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